SUNY Potsdam’s academic realignment plan moving some degree programs entirely online | Education

POTSDAM – SUNY Potsdam officials say the plan to refocus the university academically was carried out in the face of “real” financial problems and a big part of the plan is to move some graduate and undergraduate courses fully online.

The discussions took place during the SUNY Potsdam College Council meeting in April.

The plan, which has been publicly criticized by philosophy professors as a threat to some faculties, is still being drafted. However, SUNY Potsdam official in charge, Philip T. Neisser, told the council: “I have accepted the recommendations (of the plan). In this respect, we have left the design phase behind us.”

Bette S. Bergeron, provost and senior vice president of academic affairs, said the plan was initiated under former officer in charge John L. Graham, who died in November shortly after taking office.

“Remember that this important process under Dr. Graham was initiated with the recognition that the campus needed to take very bold steps to address very real ongoing tax challenges,” she said.

Part of the problem for SUNY Potsdam is falling enrollments. In autumn 2019, 3,339 students were enrolled at the university, 3,063 of them in undergraduate studies. That dropped to 3,084 with 2,842 students in Fall 2020 and 2,613 total enrollments with 2,358 students in Fall 2021.

“SUNY Potsdam has faced tax pressures in recent years due to declining enrollments. Like other comprehensive institutions in our sector, we are impacted by the significant decline in the graduating demographic in the Northeast, particularly in our state, and our recent decline has been exacerbated by the pandemic,” Alexandra M. Jacobs-Wilke, director of public affairs for the SUNY Potsdam said in an email after the meeting. “The College Council discussion related to our ongoing efforts to achieve fiscal stability through both cost savings and increased revenue from student attraction and retention.”

Ms. Jacobs-Wilke said that there are some bright spots in the new state budget that will improve SUNY Potsdam’s financial picture. She said direct government support “continues at the same level as previous years” at $12,658,000.

The state is also eliminating the so-called “TAP gap”. TAP stands for Tuition Assistance Program, a state financial aid for college students in New York. The gap is the difference between the full SUNY tuition and the amount the campus is allowed to charge TAP-eligible students. According to statistics from Ms. Jacobs-Wilke, SUNY Potsdam was forecast to have a gap of $660,000 in 2022-23 and $330,000 in 2023-24. There are other financial funding streams that could benefit SUNY Potsdam. The State University of New York is currently in the process of awarding grants to individual schools.

“This year’s state budget truly represents a major investment in public higher education and highlights a number of bright spots that will ease pressure on our campus budget as work continues on our financial planning and strategic enrollment management. We are working on an analysis of the exact impact on our campus budget,” she wrote.

During the College Council meeting, there wasn’t much discussion about which specific courses or departments might be cut or eliminated altogether. Blair F. Madore, chair of the faculty senate and associate professor of mathematics, said the university is considering eliminating physical education classes and health and wellness courses as general educational requirements for students. He also said it was considering “removing a 300-level course as part of the General Education Pathways Program.”

He pointed out that the Faculty Senate recently approved two new programs — a minor in marketing and a minor in forensics — along with a “dual major with a university in Ukraine.”

“In general, the faculty is not very happy about (the realignment plan),” said Mr. Madore. “I’m not sure if any plan will come out that addresses our financial situation that we would be excited about.”

Mr Madore added that he was “particularly dissatisfied with this plan” but “we hope over time that we will be able to keep the best parts of this plan and convince our administrators to do what we do.” for that would consider jettisoning the worst parts of this plan.”

Dean of Studies Eric D. Duchscherer said the PACES dining service on campus is also facing some changes. He said the Lehman dining room will be closed and its buffets will be moved to the Barrington Student Union. He also said on-campus Starbucks, Crane Commons and an on-campus coffee shop will be consolidated into the student union.

Mr. Duchscherer also noted that the Crane portion of the realignment plan “was particularly controversial…with many prospective and current students.”

Ms Bergeron said the college had not been able to undertake a lengthy process of analyzing its programs and creating a list of priorities.

“We haven’t had enough time to go through a full prioritization process,” which “under normal times and circumstances would take a year or two,” Ms Bergeron said.

She said many of her efforts are focused on increasing enrollment in online programs. That alone won’t have a huge impact on the university’s finances, but expanding online programs will.

“Offering courses online definitely doesn’t save money. Increasing enrollments definitely helps increase access…and expand our enrollments,” said Ms. Bergeron. “We are putting programs online as quickly as possible with the resources available to us. We should soon have all of our graduate programs online within the School of Education and Professional Studies.”

“We’re looking at online programs right now, not individual courses,” Ms. Bergeron said. “The focus is currently on online programs.”

She explained that for an online degree program, SUNY requires all of its courses to be online, including general educational requirements.

“For online programs, courses must be fully online for SUNY to consider a fully online program,” Ms. Bergeron said.

She noted that SUNY is seeing a shift in modern language programs. They will be “distributed across multiple universities in the SUNY system…which will be online and shared across the campus system.”

Mr Neisser said he has given deans the authority to “work with each program individually to reflect adjustments to enrollment that we may make”.

“It’s about reaching more prospective students and keeping enrolled students here,” he said. “Online courses are important here, especially in the graduate field.”

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